‘The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz’ by Jeremy Dronfield #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

The boy

Hive    Waterstones

‘Everyone thinks, tomorrow it will be my turn. Daily, hourly, death is before our eyes . . .’

Gustav and Fritz Kleinmann are father and son in an ordinary Austrian Jewish family when the Nazis come for them. 

Sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 they survive three years of murderous brutality. 

Then Gustav is ordered to Auschwitz. 

Fritz, desperate not to lose his beloved father, insists he must go too. And though he is told it means certain death, he won’t back down. 

So it is that father and son together board a train bound for the most hellish place on Earth . . .

This is the astonishing true story of horror, love and impossible survival. 

There are a huge amount of books being published at the moment based on the stories of those who suffered in concentration camps at the hands of the Nazis. And while I strongly believe that these stories must be told, must be kept alive, there are problems with what seems to be a bit of a ‘trend’.

I think it’s important to always remember that these terrible things happened to real people. These stories are not fiction; these things actually happened, and, as such those involved should be treated with respect, dignity and compassion. Their stories shouldn’t be used for their shock factor or as material for that rather horrible human trait that has people slowing down when they see an accident on the motorway. I do sometimes have the decidedly uncomfortable feeling that this is sometimes the case.

There is a very popular book out at the moment that is ‘based’ on a true story but has caused a great deal of pain to the relatives of the people involved. I’m not sure that anyone should be writing a story based on a real victim of the holocaust without the permission of their family. It leaves a rather nasty taste.

So I chose to read this book because it used the actual words and experiences of Gustav and Fritz and was written with the full permission of and in collaboration with the family.

And it is a book that should be read by everyone. It doesn’t hold back in detailing the cruelty of the regime, and neither should it. But this is, more than anything, a story of the extraordinary strength of human beings, their resilience, their ability to survive in the most dreadful of circumstances. We talk a lot about heroes these days, and it sometimes seems that not a lot is involved to become a hero, but in this book you’ll find multiple examples of people helping each other at great risk to themselves – real heroes.

It’s beautifully written too. There’s no sentimentality here, just crisp, clear, honest writing. The dialogue and excerpts from Gustav’s record of events means you become really involved in their story, and you never forget these were real people.

There’s a real rise in nasty politics at the moment, and the resurgence of the far right is particularly terrifying. Books like this serve as a reminder of how easy it is for things to turn ugly, and very quickly too. Gustav, Fritz and their family and friends didn’t realise how badly things were going until it was too late. It’s up to all of us to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

5 stars

10 comments

  1. After we got married—after the wedding with my cast-of-thousands family—we sat down with the Hub’s ENTIRE extended family. Every relative they knew of on the entire planet fit around one normal-sized dining room table. The rest were murdered in the holocaust. For the most part, their stories will never be known.

    Just last year, we found that a miracle occurred. His father’s cousins, facing certain arrest and probable death, had taken their infant daughter and left her by the side of the road, where she was picked up and adopted by a Russian family. She didn’t find out her actual identity until a DNA test during a trip to Israel a few years ago connected her to my husband’s family. But as you point out, this one miraculous survival serves to highlight the millions who were murdered.

    So I’m glad for your thoughtful and sensitive review of this book. I’ve already downloaded it, and hope to have both time and strength to read it soon.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Goodness, Barb, I can’t imagine what that sort of loss does to a family, or how you make the decision that your baby is safer left at the side of the road – that takes such courage. I won’t pretend it was an easy read, but because of what happened to families like your husband’s, it’s a really important one. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like an important book. Way back in the 60s I read one of my dad’s library books called, I think, ‘I Can Never Forgive’ (or ‘Forget’) by an Auschwitz survivor. It was the first I knew of concentration camps and was so shocked and at the same time so amazed at the bravery as people risked their lives helping each to try to survive. My dad was horrified I’d read it because he felt I was too young and wanted to protect me from knowing such terrible things had happened so recently. I wish I could remember the author’s name as it is a book which stayed with me – even now I can remember scenes and incidents with total clarity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Was it I Cannot Forgive’ by Rudolf Vrba:

      It looks like this is a reprint.
      I think that’s one of the awful things – that it happened in living memory. My parents were born just before the war and it’s hard to imagine this happened in their lifetime, and terrifying that the right wing is on the rise again. Scary times.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It might be. I notice one the reviewers said he’d first read it fifty years ago, which puts it in the right time frame but it had a different title. My dad was called up when he was 18 towards the end of the war. I couldn’t get my head round the fact these things were happening in his lifetime. As you say, scary times with the right on the rise again.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not sure which book you are referring to that was written without permission of the family. I will put this one on my list. I led a project that allowed my students to interview survivors. The students were then in middle school and are now in their late 20s and early 30s. It had a powerful impact on all of us. And to this day, I think of them often.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is terrifying to contemplate how idealism can be subverted into complete disregard for human values, and can make ‘ordinary’ men and women into monsters. The process is well described in The Goddess of the Devil by Estonian Mart Sander.

    Liked by 1 person

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